“Was the case inside?”
“Yes Gaelwine. I’ve got it right now,” Liana silently replied as she quickly closed and locked the temple’s massive wooden door.
“Good,” Gaelwine answered. “We must hurry. Gaius is waiting for us.”
Feet meeting grass, Liana sped forward as the urgency of her mission weighed heavily upon her. She was almost to the glen where Gaelwine waited when a light flashed brightly before her eyes. When her vision cleared she found her sword gripped firmly in her hands, and the case resting on the ground behind her. Directly in front of her a group of strangers were lying on the ground.
They landed on the hard cool ground with an unceremonious plop. The slayers were the first to gain their footing as weapons found hands, and they placed themselves before the physically weaker members of their group, shielding them from the apparent threats before them. The woman standing in front of them was tall, dark-haired, and holding a long two-handed broadsword in her hands. She also seemed to be the least of their problems. The low rumbling growl coming from the large gray dragon blocking the path behind them filled everyone with fear. A fight with one woman holding a sword was better odds than taking on the woman combined with the angry dragon.
“Holy Cow! It’s a dragon!” Xander exclaimed, nerves as usual, causing him to run off at the mouth. “Buffy! Look it’s Puff the Magic Dragon!”
“Not now Xan,” Buffy muttered, her grip on the slayer scythe tightening.
“Um…Hi,” Willow said with a slight nervous laugh flowing along her words. “This whole thing was supposed to bring us directly to Dawn, but obviously you’re not her so now we’re lost, but if you could tell us where we are, and possibly not try to kill us that would be really nice.”
The woman’s eyes only narrowed further at Willow’s words. Giving the group no reply, she took a purposeful step back towards the sanctuary she was standing in front of.
“Maybe it did work Wills,” Buffy said as she slowly took a step forward. “For all we know Warrior Princess here could tell us exactly where my sister is.”
“If you turn, and leave now then neither I, nor the dragon will kill you,” the woman intoned in a soft deadly voice.
“And I want to know where my sister is,” Buffy growled back as her own eyes narrowed in anger.
“Um Buffster…” Xander said from behind Buffy, his own hands clutching at his pack as nerves got the better of him. “Maybe you should simply ask Xena if she’s seen Dawn instead of just tossing accusations at someone who might not be an enemy.”
“For all I know you are spies for Ktulu, so I’ll repeat myself just this once. Leave this place, and we will not kill you.”
“Oh!” Willow cried, her eyes going wide at hearing the name of the creature they knew to be searching for Dawn. “He’s the one who sent that smelly lizardy demon to look for Dawn! Buffy, maybe she knows where Ktulu is. For all we know he was the one who took her.”
“It would be foolish to continue your pursuit of that monster.”
“That monster stole my sister, and I want to know where he is!” Buffy yelled.
“Then maybe we should find out exactly where we are, right B?” Faith asked as she placed a soothing hand on Buffy’s shoulder.
“She’s right,” turning to face the swordswoman standing before them Angel spoke in what he hoped was a non-threatening manner. “Please, we are simply looking for her sister, and any help would be welcome.”
Eyeing the group suspiciously Liana spoke carefully, measuring their reactions to her words.
“You are in Ærworuld á on écnisse at the Goddess’ Haven in King Leof’s province. This area is under the protection of the Kingdom’s Alliance.”
“We’re in Anessie and King Leaf’s whatsit?” Buffy asked clearly confused.
“Sorry for wigging out on you but, we’re not from around here,” Willow replied sheepishly, and with a slight shrug of her shoulders.
“We come in peace,” Xander said as he affected what he hoped was a goofy, but harmless grin, ‘Vulcan peace sign‘ held high. “Take us to your leader, please.”
Sitting against a nearby tree, broadsword resting across her folded legs, Liana watched the strange group. Their clothing itself wasn’t the only thing that stood out. Their speech patterns were odd, filled with words Liana had never heard before. She was still trying to figure out what "wigging" meant.
Also they seemed to alternately show respect and distain for one another. They appeared to loathe the one called Angel the most, though Liana did not know why. Despite his overbearing attitude, Angel seemed to be the only one preaching caution in their new environment. Buffy, whom Liana had immediately pegged as a warrior, appeared to be their leader. Liana didn’t believe this was a wise choice. Buffy came across as undisciplined and arrogant, and Liana knew those qualities could easily get a person killed.
While she knew they were not followers of the Dark One and Ktulu, she still couldn’t trust the reason they gave for traveling to Ærworuld.
“Tell me about these demons sent after your sister,” Liana asked.
“What do you want to know?”
Hearing the exasperated sigh lacing the blonde warrior’s words, Liana raised an eyebrow, and made her annoyance with the newcomers obvious.
“What would a being such as Ktulu want with a little girl?”
“We don’t know,” Willow replied. “We were in the middle of a war with these really bad beings when these lizardy demons showed up in our world.”
“And you left your world unprotected?” Liana commented as her gaze swept over the group. This caused the group to stiffen visibly, and a scowl to settle across Buffy’s face.
“No,” Xander answered after sharing a quick glance with his friends. “Um…there were others helping us.”
“They are hiding something,” Gaelwine whispered in her mind from where he lay curled up on the path leading from the temple. He was pretending to sleep. Gaelwine hoped the strangers would speak freely, believing him to be nothing more than a simple animal.
“I see,” Liana nodded, replying to both the spoken and unspoken words.
“Look,” Angel interrupted. The whole conversation was irritating him, and he was tired of following Buffy’s lead. “I get that you don’t trust us. Fact is we don’t trust you either. So, this whole gathering information thing you‘re doing? It’s getting old, fast.”
“Then it seems we are at a stalemate,” Liana replied as she stood up. Walking over to Gaelwine, she gently placed her hand on his brow. “And I insist you stay here until Caius has been able to have a word with you.”
When another dragon arrived, jaws once again hit the ground. Bigger than the gray dragon, it was cover with gleaming red scales on its body and darker wings. A bright red jewel was encrusted between its eyes. This dragon was intelligent, and openly assessing them. Turning its head towards Liana, it stared at her for a few minutes before looking over to the gray dragon. It was then the Scoobies realized a conversation was taking place; one they were not privy too.
“Hey!” Xander grumbled under his breath. “No fair! Why do they get to do the cool secret conversation and not us?”
“Because it is our world you are trespassing in,” a smooth voice said, echoing inside their heads.
Startled, everyone looked to find the new dragon staring at them, head tilted to the side.
“So, you’re this Caius we’ve been waiting for,” Buffy said, false bravado filling her words.
“I am,” Caius answered, seeming to bow before the group.
“Look, Puff,” Buffy started only to stop when what looked like amusement flickered across Caius’ face.
“Does everyone from your world always gift each other with nicknames?”
“You already know who we are, don’t you?” Angel asked as he came to stand beside Buffy. “How is that?”
“I have learned much from the Father.”
“The who?” Buffy asked, deliberately playing dumb.
For five long seconds she only got a disgusted look in answer.
“Do not underestimate my kind Slayer. We may not be human, but we are far from stupid.”
“Since you seem to know about slayers, then I suggest you start talking,” Faith said as she joined the conversation. She stood off to Buffy’s side, arms crossed over her chest.
“Slayers?’ Liana asked. “What in all of Ærworuld is a slayer?”
“A slayer is the human guardian of the Father’s former world,” Caius answered.
“Then what are these slayers doing here?”
“Interfering in a fight where they are not needed, most likely.”
This time the voice was a low rumbling growl. It carried an edge of hostility, and was coupled with the gray dragon thumping its tail in irritation.
“Interfering?” Buffy shrieked. “My sister was forcefully dragged to your world! I came to get her back!”
“You have no place here interloper!” the gray roared, as his eyes flashed and smoke unfurled from his nose and mouth.
“Hey! Ho! Buffster!” Xander said. “Please try not to anger the big scary dragon.”
Moving surprisingly fast for such a massive creature, Caius let loose a thunderous roar, jaws clamping briefly on the gray dragon’s neck. He gave the other dragon a sharp shake, and then let go, all the while issuing softer growls, tail flickering behind him.
The gray one seemed to shrink in on itself, though it kept growling, eyes locked on Caius.
“Guardians of the Father‘s old world,” Caius said as he turned his attention their way once more. “I shall deliver you to the Gods’ main temple in Siry. There you can rest, and in a few days time I will bring you to where the Girl-Key is staying.”
Siry turned out to be a beautiful community surrounding a gorgeous white stone temple. It reminded the Scoobies of the grand cathedrals in Europe. The sun gleamed off its surface, giving it an ethereal glow. Well-tended gardens spread around the surrounding lands. There were a few simple houses scattered about, and people dressed in robes, all differing in color, went about their daily work. They acted as if seeing strangers from a different dimension was an everyday occurrence.
For Buffy, it all meant nothing. She was still fuming over Caius’ refusal to bring her straight to her sister. Not even being told Dawn was safe, or getting to ride on a dragon's back, enabled her to appreciate the town‘s beauty. Buffy also wanted to go back and show the gray dragon and the slayer wanna-be what a real slayer was capable of.
Interfering, my ass! There’s a war going on here. Of course they’re going to need a slayer, Buffy thought.
She had fought in numerous apocalypses, two of which involved a hell god and the First Evil. She had won those battles, and knew if anyone was going to find a way to kill Ktulu or his Master it would be her. These people would need her, and the other slayers soon. Slayers were destined to fight evil, and this world was being plagued by it.
Bolstered by her thoughts, Buffy straightened her shoulders, and marched through the temple doors. She brought with her an aura of entitlement, surveying her surroundings with judgmental eyes. Buffy would show Caius, this world needed her.
“Man, is it getting hairy out there,” Kennedy said as she barged into Giles’ hotel room and dropped the box she was carrying on top of the coffee table.
“And what exactly do you mean by ‘hairy’?” Giles asked as he bent to scoop up the pile of books Kennedy had knocked off. “The Senior Partners only recently opened the portal to allow their army into our world. Surely there are still a few stray demons left over from the battle.”
“No, this is different,” Kennedy said. “Remember those lizard-y demons the others found just before they left? Well, we keep coming across more and more of them. It’s like they’re checking the place out or something.”
“Oh dear,” Giles said as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have they said anything to indicate why they’re here?”
“Nope. But we did find a few of them sniffing around the ruins of the Wolfram and Hart building,” Kennedy offered with a shrug of her shoulders. “Don’t know if it means anything.”
“Knowing our luck it probably does,” Giles sighed. “Kennedy…”
Kennedy interrupted quickly, “keep up patrols around the building, kill any stray demons, and report back any weird behavior shown by said demons. I already gave the orders Watcher man. There’s a group of girls out there right now with Shannon, and in two hours another group of girls will go out while Shannon’s group comes back for food and rest. I know what I’m doing. I had a good teacher.”
“Yes, well…Of course you did,” Giles stammered as he tried to think of something to say.
She made sure to meet his eyes, “just remind me to tell Spike that when Buffy brings him back okay?”
Silence greeted her words. Giving Giles a quick nod, Kennedy jumped up from the couched and headed for the door.
“I’m gonna go take a shower and get some rest. I’ll see you before I head back out.”
Shaking his head, Giles went back to leafing through his books. They were infinitely safer than actually dealing with people; books stayed the same while people had the tendency to change without anyone realizing it.
Sitting at King Aneirin’s table on his right side, Dawn fervently wished for the ground to open up and swallow her. The banquet hall was one long room with tables running along the length of the room leaving the center clear. The table she sat at rested on a slightly elevated dais, and followed the width of the room. It afforded the table’s occupants a view of the entire room and the double doors taking up most of the front wall.
People were packed into the room, all eating, talking, laughing, or simply watching others. Minstrels played softly in a corner on Dawn’s left side. She tried to focus on the beautiful music they played, but she couldn’t help feeling all the eyes her trained on her.
Dawn had only been in Ærworuld for about two weeks. News had traveled through the Alliance’s many kingdoms like wildfire. It seemed every able body was trying to visit the castle to catch a glimpse of the Girl-Key. It made her feel like a freak, and the openly jealous stares from some of the noble women didn’t help. She’d already heard stories about the Key Powers she used to entrance the king. They failed to grasp that if Dawn had had any powers she would have used them to go home.
“Are you alright my dear?” Fredric asked from his place beside her. Looking into his concerned blue eyes, Dawn felt her bottom lip start to tremble. Taking a deep breath to steady her emotions, Dawn forced a small smile onto her face and hoped the older man didn’t push the issue any further. She didn’t know if she would be able to stop her tears once they started.
“I’m fine,” Dawn, said wincing at the waver evident in her voice.
“If you wish to leave just say so,” Aneirin whispered as he leaned his head in her direction. “It’s understandable if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything.”
“I know,” Dawn replied as she tried to swallow the lump forming in her throat. “Thanks. It‘s just…all starting to sink in you know?”
“Of course,” Aneirin answered before turning back to his previous conversation.
Sighing, Dawn finally put her fork down and rested her head in her right hand, eyes scanning over the crowd of people in the room. Her left hand was idly playing with the edge of the tablecloth when she felt a warm hand cover hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Blinking rapidly to force the tears from her eyes, Dawn turned and gave Aneirin a grateful smile. The rest of dinner passed more easily than the first half had. It helped that King Aneirin never let go of her hand.
A/N: Ærworuld: Ancient
á on écnisse: world without end